Will outlawing guns solve PNG’s crime problems?

Sean Jacobs, PNG Attitude, 10 August 2015

It’s often thought, in both developing and developed states, that stricter gun laws are a solution to reducing gun crimes and the broader problems of law and order. Tragic public shootings in the United States, for example, often provoke demands for tighter gun laws and stoke social outrage that everyday citizens are entitled to possess firearms.

In Papua New Guinea (PNG), a nation with an international reputation for lawlessness and violence, outlawing guns has recently emerged as a common sense way to reduce gun crime. “There’s no need to carry guns,” says the Governor of Enga Province Sir Peter Ipatas. “If we can have no guns it will go a long way towards maintaining law and order.”

But tougher laws, let alone a desirable objective of ‘no guns’, is a far from straightforward policy solution to law and order. Some countries, for example, have high rates of legal gun ownership but very low murder rates, as witnessed in Israel, New Zealand and Finland. By contrast, some countries — Russia, Brazil and Mexico for example — employ strict gun control laws but endure stubbornly high murder rates.

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